I’ve been home from GenCon for a few days, and I’m still overwhelmed with excitement (when I’m not sneezing or coughing). It was a truly amazing four days, both personally and professionally. The convention was huge, with attendance up 10% from last year, and events sprawling from the convention center into nearby hotels. Here are some highlights:
- One of the best things about going to big cons is getting to meet internet friends in real life. There are several women I’ve worked with on gaming projects for the last year as well as men that I’ve gamed with that I was able to finally meet. Online RPG gaming usually involves Google Hangouts or Skype, but it’s very different (and wonderful) to have that person in front of you. The RPG community feels both sprawling and intimate at the same time. I saw a lot of names I recognized from online interactions.
- The best game I played was an Apocalypse World hack called Epyllion by Marissa Kelly, co-owner and Lead Artist for Magpie Games. You play as baby dragons, with archetypes pulled from Spyro and My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Everyone at the table seemed to be having a great time as we fought against the Darkness threatening our home. More to come on this game at a later date.
- I survived my first panel experience Saturday morning, on the Michelle Lyons-McFarland moderated GMing as Women panel. It included me, Kira Magrann, Cheyenne Rae Grimes, and Sarah Edwards. The audience was mostly women, and about half raised their hands when asked if they ran games. After talking a bit about how we all got into gaming and what games we preferred to run, we switched to a Q&A. Most of the questions were about managing players — not necessarily something that only women have to deal with, but something that is definitely complicated by the “den mother” role some female GMs fall into. We also addressed being used as de facto babysitters, how to defuse that one guy who’s skeptical a woman can run a game, and even handed out tips on how to get organized for your first time running a game.
- The only panel I attended was Gaming as Mythical Exploration with Kenneth Hite, Greg Stafford, and Lillian Cohen-Moore. They covered quite a bit of ground ranging from personal examples pulled from their own games to an overview of how myth, legend, and folklore interact. Lillian related an adventure she wrote that combines the Bonny Swans murder ballad with a traditional Nordic story about flutes made from bones for Iron Edda, a game that has dwarves in mechs. Ken mentioned using the Orpheus story in multiple games, and every time he ran it, someone always looked back.
- I still don’t think I got to see all of the Exhibit Hall, and I spent quite a bit of time there. I did hit the Indie Press Revolution booth first for Sagas of the Icelanders, Pulse, and Atomic Robo, as well as the Indie Game Designers Network for Houses of the Blooded and Call of Catthulhu dice. I got a Toothless toy, and a friend now has a tiny black dragon wrapped around her wrist, complete with miniature armor.
- There were amazing cosplays and fantastic displays, and I patronized the food trucks as often as I could. The best was still the Spicebox, although the birthday cake cupcake sundae I had from Sweet Jeanius was a runner up. The best off-site food was the fish and chips at the Claddagh Pub. While I couldn’t quite make it through the crowd to see the Costume Parade, I saw enough elves, literary characters, and superheroes roaming the halls to make up for it.
- I didn’t do a lot of partying or gaming with friends, as Friday and Saturday night had me running my Rat Queens skinned Dungeon World game. There were shenanigans such as you get in con games, where people are less invested in their characters — Violet got set on fire twice, there were accusations of necrophilia, and an old woman’s knitting needles were stolen and repurposed as makeshift weapons. I learned a lot from running the same game three times in two days, and hope that my players had at least as much fun as I did.
- The best event I attended all weekend was the Hacking as Women: Indie Hack Night put on by Mark Diaz Truman and assorted game designers and writers. Originally gaming writer Tracy Hurley’s idea, the event brought together a group of women interested in designing games with a bunch of published game designers and industry people. They presented three different systems as the start to our games: Fate, Cortex Plus, and Apocalypse World. I was paired with a super smart stranger, Whitney, and given ten minutes to come up with a basic concept. Once we agreed on dark fairy tales with an eye to the original versions, we decided on Apocalypse World as the start of our hack, and Marissa was assigned as our coach. In only 45 minutes, our team refined the concept, came up with custom moves and character ideas, and then had to pitch it to the assembled group. It was an amazing experience. Not only was I lucky enough to work with two very talented women, but I came away with a better understanding of everything that goes into hacking a game, and the confidence to think that I could do it!
So GenCon has come and gone, and despite my very best efforts, I now sit at home suffering through what is termed “con crud,” or a really nasty summer cold. Just reflecting on all this brings back that excitement, though, and while I’m not sure if I’ll make GenCon again next year or give Origins a try, it was possibly the best GenCon I’ve ever had.